How expert forums will keep the CfE revolution rolling

3rd October 2014 at 01:00
Education Scotland unveils plans for constant re-evaluation

SCOTLAND COULD become a global pioneer by making its curriculum the first to be continually updated, it has been claimed.

New groups of experts - drawn from schools and beyond - have been charged with ensuring that Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) does not grow stale or fall behind with developments in rapidly changing areas such as technology and politics.

The 13 Curriculum, Learning, Teaching, Assessment and Support forums will be led by senior Education Scotland officers and each could include up to 18 contributors. They will try to solve a perennial problem in curricular reform - that the glacial pace of change has meant "new" curricula are outdated by the time of implementation.

"It's exciting stuff," said Graham Norris, Education Scotland's assistant director for school years. "If we can pull this off, we'll probably be the first system in the world to set up parameters that are relevant well into the future. And to be able to manage change within that is a very exciting prospect."

The forums would encourage incremental change in schools and other education settings, he said, rather than the "hugely disruptive" reforms the sector has endured in the past.

Education secretary Michael Russell gave his backing, insisting that the country needed to get away from "big bang approaches". The forums would help to ensure that the system responded better when concerns about reform were raised, he added.

Each of the 13 forums will meet about four times a year. The groups cover Scotland's eight curricular areas, three different age groups - 0-9, 8-16 and 14-19 - digital learning and Gaelic.

The project will come into force in three stages, with the first four groups - digital learning, expressive arts, middle years (8-16) and maths and numeracy - already under way.

Once fully established, the forums will include pupils, parents, teachers, headteachers, education associations, employers, council staff, further education staff and university researchers, among others.

Robert Macmillan, a Fife principal teacher of social subjects and vice-president of the Scottish Secondary Teachers' Association, who is on the digital learning forum, said it was "essential" that such groups genuinely involved classroom practitioners and not "the usual suspects".

Mr Norris said the forums would help to establish what CfE looked like in practice and would give teachers "confidence that what they are doing [in school] is definitely worth preserving".

The forums could, for example, allow teachers to keep pace with rapid technological advances and shifting questions of constitutional politics after the referendum on Scottish independence. They could also carry out educational research and produce teaching materials.

"This is about matching the the world that children and young people are in, in a way that they recognise," Mr Norris said.

At a time when the EIS teaching union is campaigning against excessive workloads, Mr Norris rejected the suggestion that the forums would present teachers with more boxes to tick. "I don't think that's the case at all - there won't be any checklists," he said.

The forums could take different approaches to their responsibilities, he said, but all would be encouraged to ask "tough questions". Their first task was to establish just how relevant the present curriculum was, but CfE was already a "different beast", he argued, adding: "Most systems use exams to change learning systems - we've done it the other way round."

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